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Bookmark and Share Paper 1411

Blin Orthography: A History and an Assessment
Paul D. Fallon
93-98 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


This paper examines two orthographic scripts used for Blin (or Bilin), a Central Cushitic language of Eritrea spoken by around 90,000 people. The first script to represent the language was the Ethiopic abugida, a system akin to a syllabary where "each character stands for a consonant accompanied by a particular vowel, usually /a/, and other vowels (or no vowel) are indicated by consistent additions to the consonant symbols" (Daniels 2001). First used by the Italian missionary Sapeto (1857), it was employed, with slight modifications for sounds unique to Blin, by Reinisch (1882), by Italian scholars, and by native speakers, culminating in the monolingual dictionary of Kiflemariam and Paulos (1992), and its recent integration into Unicode 4.1. However, educational policy of the Eritrean government began mother-tongue primary education in Blin in 1997 using a new Roman-based orthography, which was chosen as a compromise between Christian and Muslim-associated scripts, and as an aid to learn English, the language of secondary and higher education in Eritrea. The strengths and weaknesses of each system are examined. The paper concludes with a discussion of whether Blin will undergo synchronic or diachronic digraphia (Dale 1980) as the two systems coexist.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference on African Linguistics: Shifting the Center of Africanism in Language Politics and Economic Globalization
edited by Olaoba F. Arasanyin and Michael A. Pemberton
Table of contents
Printed edition: $250.00